Friday, 6 August 2010

Friday Flash - A Black Night in the Churchyard

A small rock scuttled across the medieval stones. A fox looked up from his foraging near the gate. His amber eyes saw the Black Knight sitting on a low tomb. The knight kicked his feet against the faded inscription, and fiddled with his gauntlets. He cast his gaze around the lurching gravestones. He no longer saw the names; he knew each and every one of them. He knew their dates of birth, and their dates of death. He occasionally invented stories for them to keep himself amused.

Drunken chatter drifted across the still air. He looked up, but watched in dismay as the four shrill girls continued past the gate. The churchyard used to be a popular thoroughfare between two busy streets. An office block now blocked the way at the northern end, its car park butted up against the graveyard wall. The neglected church sat as if invisible while the city grew up around it, a medieval island in a sea of modernity.

The knight knew what it was to be forgotten. He hauled himself off the tomb to roam the small churchyard. Years of local building development altered the yard, changing its boundaries and disturbing graves. He hoped a developer might find his grave by accident. Caught in limbo, he was confined to the churchyard until he knew where his body was buried.

The Black Knight had guarded the churchyard for eight centuries. In earlier times, grave robbers, murderers, rapists, gangsters, and thieves all tried to ply their trade in his yard. The oath he swore to punish the evildoer held as much sway in death as it did in life. He consumed their souls and left their bodies as shambling walking corpses. His reputation even prevented crime as tales of clanking armour and dark shadows carried far and wide across the region.

Times changed. No one believed in ghosts or justice any more. He patrolled his abandoned corner of the city centre, forgotten and lonely. Not to mention hungry. What was it, forty, or fifty, years since his last meal? The sun rose and set, and still he wandered among the graves. The wind whistled through the dilapidated church, while weeds grew rampant. In his earlier years, he tried knocking on the coffins. He got no answer. Their occupants had already sailed across the Styx, but Charon would not take him. Without his body, he had no payment for the ferry.

Glass smashed near the gate. The knight looked up. A fat youth threw a second bottle over the wall. Green glass shattered against a moss-covered gravestone. The knight's sacred duty to protect swelled in his chest as the youth pushed open the gate. The hinges squealed in protest. The youth staggered along the overgrown path. He lurched behind Mrs Martha Eddowes’ gravestone to relieve himself. The knight drew his sword.

The youth zipped up his trousers. He turned around to face the church. Only one window remained intact. The stained glass told the story of the Annunciation. The Black Knight guarded it with a possessive zealotry. Besides the church, that single window was the only thing on this ground older than him. Twelfth century glass, and still perfect.

The youth picked up a large stone. He tested the weight in his hand. The Black Knight growled. He didn’t like where this was going, but he could do nothing until the youth did something wrong.

The stone flew through the air, and crashed into the ancient window. The glass imploded inwards, raining down on the pitted stone floor inside. The Black Knight howled. The youth whirled around, startled by the sudden noise. He saw a black shadow, and heard metal sing as it split the air.

The youth’s body staggered backwards. The Black Knight stood tall and furious in the churchyard. He held his sword in one hand, the youth’s soul in the other. It writhed in his grasp, a roiling mass of deceit, violence and malice. The Black Knight took one last look at the gaping wound in the wall of the church. As the youth’s body stumbled toward the gate, the Knight sat down to devour the soul. Such a satisfying meal, but at such a price.

* * *

The image for this story is actually the abandoned chapel at the centre of Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington, London, although the flash was inspired by the legend of the Black Knight, who is reputed to haunt the small churchyard attached to St Nicolas' Cathedral in Newcastle upon Tyne. The St Nicolas churchyard is not overgrown and the Cathedral is one of the most beautiful ecclesiastical buildings in the country, but it suited the flash better that the church be neglected, so I've taken a bit of artistic license. I'm also not sure why the Knight is stuck in the churchyard, but this made the most sense to me. It is true that someone threw a brick through the oldest window in the Cathedral, though what happened to the hooligan is anybody's guess...

32 comments:

isabeljoelyblack said...

This is just jaw-droppingly well written, beautifully described and deeply chilling.

mazzz_in_Leeds said...

Awesome! A great way to mix modern and old. The knight is a lovely character, and the imagery of the forgotten church hidden in the modern city centre is great

Icy Sedgwick said...

Thank you! Ever since I heard the story of the Black Knight of St Nicolas', I've always felt so sorry for him. I hope he knows he hasn't been forgotten.

Sulci Collective said...

I loved this story! "The knight's sacred duty to protect swelled in his chest" was a brilliant line as was his hunger finally being slaked but at the terrible cost. Now that the last window is broken, will he finally starve to death as there's nothing left to desecrate, nothing left for him to guard?

Not sure you need 'inwards' after 'imploded'.

You honour your churches & myths very, very well with this story

Marc Nash

ankewehner said...

I really like that the ghost is both "good", in that he punishes evildoers, and "evil", in that he consumes souls.

One thing confused me, though: Pissing on someone's grave(stone) isn't "something wrong"?

Icy Sedgwick said...

@Marc - I'm really glad you liked it.

And yes, weeing on a gravestone is unpleasant, but considering the era the Knight is from, public urination isn't considered 'evil', or worthy of the punishment the Knight metes out. Throwing a brick through a window is!

dreamfiction said...

Excellent detail. The Black Knight came to life so easily while I was reading this. Looking forward to reading through some of your other stories.

Sophie said...

I think one of my mum's old friend's who died of an aids related illness is buried in a graveyard in Stoke Newington.
I'll have to buy some books on old London, there are so many great stories (like this!) to write.

Maria A. Kelly said...

Love this, Icy and like you, I love this knight, too. Beautiful image, by the way. I love gothic churches.

Cathy Olliffe said...

Icy, this was fabulous, really, really fabulous.
I love abandoned cemeteries, churchyards - such mythical places. And your black knight, such a terrifyingly sad creature.
I love how you took real places, real legends, and breathed life and your personality into them.
Awesome!

Icy Sedgwick said...

@dreamfiction - I hope you enjoy them!

@Sophie - Abney Park is lovely. This particular tale was inspired by Newcastle but there's loads in London's history that can always be retold.

@Maria - I'm a big fan of this particular Knight's work. I popped in to say hello at his tomb last time I visited the Cathedral.

@Cathy - So glad you liked it! The Knight is a very sad figure...I don't want him to be forgotten!

Sam said...

I love this story, though it probably explains why I've never ventured into St Nicolas' Cathedral after dark. The line, "...and heard metal sing as it split the air" gave me the chills.

afullnessinbrevity said...

The idea of chivalry should never be forgotten. I like The Black Knight; he's my new hero. And to see a window of such beauty destroyed. I do hope he finds his body. What I like is the forgotten-ness of the church and its spirituality amongst the mass produced modernity.
Lovely
Adam B

Icy Sedgwick said...

@Sam - Ye wanna get yersel' on one o' the Alone in the Dark walks roond toon!

@Adam - The thing is, the window in the Cathedral that inspired the story was the oldest example of that kind of window in the country, and then some little toerag came along and smashed it.

Sam said...

No I don't - devout coward, me!

Laurita said...

I loved the imagery of the glass falling to the stone floor. Beautiful and also sad.

Michael Solender said...

Wow. My favorite by far today of many. Pitch perfect pace, tone and imagery. Beautifully scripted, this story had everything. Loved "playing with his gauntlets" the entire piece brought a wicked smile to my face. Really a gem.

John Wiswell said...

I enjoyed this thoroughly, Icy. One of my favorites of yours, though you cheated and made it about a Black Knight. Have been a sucker for those since my childhood. Did you know some of their legends emerged from being Muslim? Makes the church defense all the more amusing.

Let's go eat some souls!

Monica Marier said...

Served the bugger right. I LOVE this avenging dark knight. This reminds me of a churchyeard I was fascinated with when I stayed a Summer at Cambridge. I saw the whole graveyard and then the buildings sprouting up like mushrooms around it, warping the ground. This was a fantastic and satisfying read, Icy. You did it again, dear.

Eric J. Krause said...

Very cool story! I enjoyed the whole thing, but that last line was spectacular.

Laura Eno said...

This is beautiful! I like your vision of why the knight is there. Awesome read, Icy!

theothersideofdeanna said...

Love this Icy. As others have said, the imagery is fantastic. I feel sorry for the poor knight and hope he finds his body soon.

I'd love to see this church, indeed many churches in London, but alas I'm in the states and have difficulty flying (just because I don't like being confined to a space I can't get out of). Maybe if I could just be knocked out for 24 hours...

Icy Sedgwick said...

I'm glad everyone liked the Knight. He's quite a sad figure, really, and given no one really uses the churchyard any more, I can imagine he would be lonely.

Mari said...

Excellent story Icy, and very sad too. I'm with Marc, what will happen to the knight now that there's nothing left to be protected? I hope the new constructions reveal his body, so he can move on. :)

SubversiveVibe said...

Aww. I have a soft spot for old churches, so I couldn't help but root for the Knight.

Gracie said...

Sorry I'm late to the party. This is magnificent, Icy. The imagery is lush and your writing is pitch perfect. One of my favorites of the week.

You have stood and delivered. :)

Icy Sedgwick said...

I think the Knight is such a charismatic figure in the original legend because he was so dedicated to his cause. He stuck to his guns (or, in his case, a sword). That kind of commitment is so impressive.

Carrie said...

Magnificent tale. Your story-writing skills shine in this piece.

Pamila Payne said...

Yes! I was so happy that the knight ate the little shit. I hate that he got to wreck the window though. What a wonderful character! He needs a friend to help find his body. Do something with this, it's great!

Jen Brubacher said...

You did the legend justice. This is lonely, spooky, and scary at once.

Icy Sedgwick said...

I'm so glad you liked it, Jen! And Pamila, I thought my flashes needed a spot of retribution!

G.P. Ching said...

Perfect blend of setting, character and plot in this one. I love that you based this on an actual legend. It makes me want to visit this cemetery. It's too bad more places don't have a ghostly knight to protect them from such idiots.

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